En­tergy files in­junc­tion against Ben­ton Util­i­ties

Hear­ing set Mon­day; ne­go­ti­a­tions con­tinue over dis­puted Exit 114 prop­erty

The Saline Courier - - FRONT PAGE - [email protected]­ton­courier.com By Dana Guthrie

At­tor­neys for En­tergy Arkansas LLC have filed an in­junc­tion against Ben­ton Util­i­ties and other city em­ploy­ees and elected of­fi­cials in or­der to halt the call­ing of a spe­cial elec­tion in March re­lated to prop­erty near Exit 114.

A hear­ing has been set for 9 a.m. Mon­day be­fore a spe­cial judge in the case.

All four Saline County judges have re­cused them­selves from this case. The hear­ing will be held in Court­room 3.

The hear­ing is open to the pub­lic.

Although ne­go­ti­a­tions be­tween BU and En­tergy are still on­go­ing re­gard­ing BU’S ac­qui­si­tion of prop­erty near the exit, the Ben­ton City Coun­cil ap­proved two or­di­nances in De­cem­ber re­lat­ing to the mat­ter in­clud­ing a mea­sure that calls for a spe­cial elec­tion if a set­tle­ment be­tween the two com­pa­nies can­not be reached.

Ja­son Carter, of Carter Law Firm, one of the at­tor­ney’s rep­re­sent­ing BU in the mat­ter, said the pur­pose of the in­junc­tion is es­sen­tially twofold to stop the city of Ben­ton from hav­ing an elec­tion to ac­quire elec­tric ser­vice ter­ri­tory from En­tergy pur­suant to Act 324 of 1935 and Sec­tion 5 of the fran­chise agree­ment be­tween Ben­ton and En­tergy, and to stop Ben­ton from pro­vid­ing tem­po­rary power to de­vel­op­ment oc­cur­ring at the exit.

“En­tergy ar­gues that the elec­tion is not al­lowed,” Carter said. “We dis­agree. En­tergy ar­gues that Ben­ton can’t pro­vide gen­er­a­tors to sup­port de­vel­op­ment at Exit 114. We dis­agree. For the record, we aren’t pleased to be go­ing through the elec­tion. We be­lieve we com­mu­ni­cated openly with En­tergy for a long time about pro­vid­ing elec­tric ser­vice to the ma­jor­ity of the area that is in­volved in the dis­pute. We felt like there was an agree­ment that we would serve the area.

Then, when the prop­erty was about to de­velop, the agree­ment went out the win­dow. There are lots of un­happy peo­ple about that.”

The court doc­u­ments filed by En­tergy not only name Ben­ton Util­i­ties, but also Mayor Tom

Farmer, City Clerk Cindy Stracener and Saline County Elec­tion Com­mis­sion­ers Jamie Clem­mer, Lois Burks and Judy Prid­gen.

The doc­u­ments also name Phil Miller, Charles Best, Doug Stracener, Gary Fer­rell and Jim Martin in their ca­pac­i­ties as Ben­ton Pub­lic Util­ity Com­mis­sion­ers. All of the Ben­ton City Coun­cil mem­bers are also named in the doc­u­ments.

“I don’t know why all of the coun­cil and com­mis­sion mem­bers were served,” Carter said. “They are not be­ing sued in their per­sonal ca­pac­ity. That said, there is no pro­hi­bi­tion against En­tergy nam­ing and serv­ing ev­ery­one. That’s just a mat­ter of their own pref­er­ence or, per­haps, other rea­sons they think it’s im­por­tant.”

John Bethel, direc­tor of pub­lic af­fairs for En­tergy, ad­dressed the coun­cil dur­ing their De­cem­ber meet­ing ask­ing the coun­cil not to ap­prove or­di­nances re­lat­ing to the mat­ter stat­ing that ap­proval could jeop­ar­dize the ne­go­ti­a­tions. He pre­vi­ously asked the al­der­men dur­ing the Novem­ber meet­ing to hold off on a vote un­til the De­cem­ber meet­ing, which the coun­cil agreed to do.

Al­der­man Steve Lee and City At­tor­ney Brent Hous­ton both ques­tioned Bethel dur­ing the De­cem­ber meet­ing as to why En­tergy op­poses the or­di­nances due to the fact that they can be re­pealed if an agree­ment is reached.

“Ex­plain that if it passed tonight, how would that neg­a­tively af­fect the ne­go­ti­a­tion process be­tween the city and En­tergy?” Hous­ton asked.

Bethel an­swered by say­ing that an ap­proval vote would start a “for­mal process.”

“Mak­ing prepa­ra­tions for an elec­tion de­clares the city is, by its own or­di­nances, in­tend­ing to act to take our prop­erty,” Bethel said. “Right now that hasn’t hap­pened, but when it does, cer­tainly we have to con­sider what ac­tions we may need to take to pro­tect and de­fend our rights just as you be­lieve you need to do that.”

If the or­di­nances were not ap­proved dur­ing the De­cem­ber meet­ing, the city would have missed the re­quired dead­line set by state law when call­ing a spe­cial elec­tion in March.

Bethel also said at that time that by not ap­prov­ing the or­di­nances, the ne­go­ti­a­tions could “con­tinue to be pos­i­tive.”

Carter said that as far as he is aware, ne­go­ti­a­tions are still on­go­ing even though the in­junc­tion has been filed by En­tergy.

“En­tergy has ap­peared will­ing to con­tinue dis­cussing terms,” Carter said. “No per­son from Ben­ton has told me ne­go­ti­a­tions were over. The next step for Ben­ton Util­i­ties is to make sure that the court un­der­stands why we be­lieve that the elec­tion is an ap­pro­pri­ate and law­ful course of ac­tion.”

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